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Lead Recycling in India – New Challenges and Opportunities

Lead is an excellent example of sustainable development within a circular economic model because it is the most recycled commodity, bar none. In the Sixties and Seventies, India was completely dependent on imported lead metal. Not surprisingly, some five decades ago, India began to recycle used lead–acid batteries (ULABs), albeit in modest tonnages and a somewhat crude manner.

Fifty years ago, the vehicle population was small but at that time several regions in India were faced with either acute power shortages or regular power failures ― especially in the summer months. Almost overnight, battery inverters appeared widely in homes and offices as power backups and the ULABs from this energy storage sector was a big boost to the recycling industry.

During the Nineties, the computing and telecoms sectors mushroomed and became largescale consumers of lead–acid batteries and thereby caused further growth in the ULAB recycling industry.

During 2001, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation for ULAB collection on a one-to-one basis was introduced and the procedure for auctioning ULABs was tightened, so that only eco-friendly lead recyclers could bulk purchase ULABs. All the lead sector stakeholders, battery manufacturers, scrap dealers, battery importers, consumers, ULAB recyclers and so on, were covered under this legislation. Indeed, they were all mandated to submit regular returns to the state and national regulatory bodies.

Gradually, the old small primitive and polluting blast furnaces are giving way to more efficient and environmentally friendly rotary furnaces and closed-loop waste management systems for effluent and by-products. There is also a marked improvement in the new generation of authorized lead smelters with respect to the management of house-keeping and occupational health.

The recent arrival and rapid growth of e-rickshaws and e-scooters will lead to another significant surge in ULABs. Similarly, the renewable energy sector is gaining momentum across the country with more home solar-system installations and the construction of grid-scale solar and wind turbine power-plants.

There is no doubt that the Indian ULAB recycling sector is poised to grow in the coming years and not only offer opportunities but also pose fresh challenges, both technically and politically. The imperative to develop a green energy-efficient and sustainable lead–acid battery industry is now greater and more relevant than ever.

L. Pugazhenthy

Executive Director, India Lead Zinc Development Association

Lakshmanan Pugazhenthy, known to his friends and throughout the battery industry as ‘Pug’, is the Executive Director of India Lead Zinc Development Association and a Past President of The Indian Institute of Metals. A metallurgist by profession, he has over four decades of experience in the non-ferrous metals industry. Pug has also received many national awards & distinctions for his significant contributions to the Indian non-ferrous metals industry. In particular, he was a recipient of the International Lead Award in 2009.